It’s been seven weeks now since cruise lines started to pause their operations around the world. It took nearly that long to return the final few passengers home, with some ships making the long journey by sea from Australia to Europe, as port closures and government restrictions closed off alternative options by air.
However, there were still many thousands of crew left on board. A recent US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ‘no-sail’ order estimated there were 47,800 crew still on ships off the east coast of the US and the Bahamas alone.
At first a party atmosphere prevailed, as hope remained that the lay-up would only be for a short while. But as time passed it became apparent that many cruises will not resume for many months and non-essential crew have become impatient to get home. That’s easier said than done in the current time. Some lines have been able to charter flights but even where scheduled flights are still available, some countries have stopped crew from disembarking ships for even a short drive to an airport to fly home. It has left cruise lines with an almighty headache, which they have decided to solve using their most obvious resource: the ships themselves, turning them into crew transporters for epic repatriation journeys.
The crew working on board cruise ships are very multi-national in origin, with many different countries represented, from across Asia, Europe and the Americas. Princess Cruises, for example, has employees from more than 100 countries around the world, which makes it more challenging to get them all home. The line has said it remains “committed and focused in our efforts to return all team mates safely home… but the repatriation planning continues to be an extremely challenging and complex operation”.
As part of an ambitious plan to return its crew home to Europe, Africa, Asia and Canada, various non-US crew were swapped between six ships anchored off the Bahamas on Monday.
Meanwhile, 18 Carnival Cruise Lines ships will rendezvous in the Bahamas over the next few days as plans are finalised to use nine of the ships to repatriate more than 10,000 healthy crew members.
Until now, the ships have been at various US homeports, taking on supplies and fuel for their epic journeys. Crew will join these ships using tenders off the coast of the Bahamas (due to coronavirus restrictions on crew movement at docks) and they will sail to destinations including Asia, Africa, Europe, India and Latin America. The remaining nine Carnival ships will anchor in the Bahamas or Panama. Three Carnival ships have already set out on their epic repatriation journeys, including Carnival Panorama from Long Beach, California, bound for the Philippines and two others from Australia.
Before Carnival paused operations on March 13, its fleet of 27 ships had nearly 29,000 crew on board. More than 10,000 crew have already been repatriated by air, and 10,000 will be travelling by sea this week. Air charters are being organised for another 6,000 personnel. The line says that once all these movements are complete, there will be approximately 3,000 crew members left on board its ships for safe operational manning.
Crew members returning home have undergone a health check and been cleared fit for travel by Carnival’s medical team. During their voyages they will have their temperature taken daily.
“The safety and well-being of our team members continues to be a top priority. Given the pause in our operations, we are committed to getting our crew members safely home to their families and we have been working closely with immigration officials in arriving countries on an efficient debarkation process,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.
Windstar Cruises is another line taking the necessary steps to return the crew home. Three Windstar ships met in St Maarten on April 29 to transfer the homebound team to Star Pride, which has set sail for Europe.
By Katherine Lawrey, Telegraph
Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more
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